Editor’s note: Toledo Free Press will follow the Blank family of Millbury for the next year as they rebuild their lives after the June 5 tornado destroyed their Main Street home.
Once in a while, for just a moment, Ed Blank and his family will forget they lost nearly everything in the June 5 tornado.
It is usually just the little things, he said during a round of storms that hit Northwest Ohio on June 23.
His wife, Julie, will tell him to get his favorite Oakley sunglasses only to remember they are gone. Then, Julie will go to put on her belt — but that is gone, too.
And when Ed saw sweater vests on a recent shopping trip, he thought of his collection. Also, gone.
Even though everything was gone 15 seconds after the tornado hit, it still hasn’t sunk in. A memory or a momentary lapse of reality will have them seeking something that is no longer around.
“Out of normal practice, you take it for granted that it is still there,” he said.
The Blank family is only three weeks into putting their life back together after the tornado destroyed their Main Street home. The potential for another tornado June 23 took them back to the night their life changed. Ed said they will never ignore a warning again.
Besides the material loss, the tornado sent Julie to the hospital with minor heart damage and it catapulted them into a conversation with God.
“Why did we live?”
Their neighbors died.
Ryan and Mary Walters said they were tired and going to bed when Ed saw them come home that night.
Ed wishes he had woken them when the sirens sounded, but he didn’t think a tornado would hit his neighborhood. No one thinks that.
“You have feelings of guilt that you made it and your neighbors didn’t,” he said.
The night of the tornado started out as a celebration. His son — a Lake High School student — was turning 15. Originally, the party was to be from 6 to 11 p.m., but Ed said it was only to go to 10 p.m.
His decision — made one week prior — probably saved lives.
Parents began to pick up their kids at about 10 p.m. Ed told those who drove to hurry home because the weather looked bad.
He told his wife, though, “Don’t worry about it, honey. They never hit us.”
But he took precautions. He removed the hanging baskets from their hooks and put them on the porch. He moved the patio furniture away from the inground pool. And he put gasoline in the generator.
At 11:10 p.m., the sirens started going off; then it started to hail. Soon after, he heard the sound of a locomotive, but no horns and whistles. It wasn’t a train on the nearby tracks.
“I sat another couple of seconds and the sky went from black to a bluish green color and about that time, lightning struck or it might have been another transformer going out, and I could see the formation in the field.”
Ed ran into the house, locked the door and flew into the basement, yelling, “Get down, the tornado is on top of us.”
The family, including his grown son, daughter-in-law and grandson, could hear the high winds, but they thought they would only find downed trees and cracked walls.
When the basement began filling with water, they went to leave, but the stairway was blocked with drywall and debris. When they cleared it and peeked out, they looked up and saw the sky.
The next moments were chaotic.
They started screaming to see if neighbors were OK. Everyone was barefoot, except his wife, so they found random shoes in the street and put them on. Using Casey’s cell phone, they called 911.
“It seemed like I was cast into a movie. It was very surreal … the whole block was a war zone,” Ed said.
Eventually, the Blanks sought shelter. The weather was still dangerous.
“We didn’t know where to begin, we didn’t know the process,” Ed said. “Do we get ahold of the insurance company? Do we look for another place?”
By the next morning, they had called their insurance agency and a representative was visiting the rubble.
“As the victim, I think you are in shock and stunned, but as an outsider, someone who wasn’t hit, they are thinking what do I do to help these people,” Ed said.
In the weeks since the tornado, the Blanks have begun the slow process of picking up the pieces. They moved in with family friends, bought two new cars and met with the builder and designer to rebuild their home.
They still plan to go on vacation in July because they didn’t buy trip insurance. At least it will be a place to live and eat, Ed said, laughing. By August, they want to move into a condo that a family friend has offered.
The rest will come with time, maybe even the answer to why the Blanks survived and the Walters didn’t.
“With the support of the community and church and friends and family, I am certain that our road to recovery will be long, but I am certain that we will be fine,” Ed said.